Shipping Your Bike Abroad

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Shipping Your Bike Abroad 1
Thule RoundTrip Sport – Hard Shell Bike Travel Case

By GoNOMAD Staff
Update October 2021

Our friends at I-bike offer bicycle excursions across Africa, China, South Korea, and many other places. This brings up an important question: how do you get your bike to these faraway places? Below is the latest information on how to ship your bike on a plane for an overseas biking adventure.

In the dark of winter 2007, and since, many airlines have effectively increased the cost of a trans-Atlantic ticket for a bicyclist by as much as $287 (Lufthansa).  If the base ticket price is $900 that is nearly a 30% increase in the cost of travel with a bike.

American Airlines, British Airways, and most of the Asia/Pacific airlines are still bicycle-friendly and don’t surcharge bicycles on trans-ocean flights, as long as your bike does not exceed the weight limit. As of 2021, American Airlines now charges a $150 fee if the bicycle and its shipping container weigh over 50 lbs. Also, Delta has stopped charging special handling fees for bicycles, though “standard checked baggage fees may still apply.”

Prior to January of 2007 most airlines let bicycles on trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights go free, in lieu of one piece of baggage (as long as they were within the two-bag limit and under the weight of 30kg). Early in 2007, most of the world’s airlines seem to have entered into collusion and simultaneously changed their economy class baggage regulations for bicycles.

By February of 2007 the economy class regulations, for most airlines, required that all bicycles be charged on these flights. There was another big jump in fees in September 2008. The charges now range from $80 to $300 each way — $160 to $600 roundtrip — and may be even higher because the changes aren’t announced or published on websites. They can be very time-consuming to track!

North-South Trip

North-South trips (i.e. North America-South America and Europe-Africa) have long had less bicycle-friendly policies so the change has not been as abrupt. For example, LATAM Airlines charges a $100 special baggage fee in 2021.

In fact, there are some seasons (~June to ~October and Christmas), that some airlines serving South America, ban (embargo) ALL over-size baggage (most bicycles) on flights. Often these embargos are not clearly published on the websites. You will need to call the airline and ask about the “baggage embargo” to get the details.

Note: Around the world, if you are flying economy class, and NOT flying to North America, your baggage allowance is likely to simply be 20kg (44lbs.) (If a box is required it will take up 3-4 kg.) Any baggage weighing more than 20kg is subject to a surcharge.

How to Pack Your Bike to Ship

Shipping Your Bike Abroad 2
Thule RoundTrip Bike Duffel, Black, One Size

None of this is a pure weight issue because many of the airlines lean bicycling customers, plus their bikes, are going to weigh less than many of their other customers without any bags. It is not a size issue because today’s modern airplanes can, and have, easily accommodated bicycles. And, if it’s a bottom-line issue, the airlines are delusional, because there aren’t enough bikes flying to make a significant difference in their revenue.

While some of the airlines are talking green, they are simultaneously working to undermine green options by their customers!

The workaround for bicyclists is not as easy as renting a bike at their destinations. There are very few rental bikes available in the world that are suitable for serious environmentally-friendly, multi-day, long-distance, bike touring.

We encourage bicyclists who are incensed by this to react. As much as it might be good to write to the airlines, they apparently have big wastebaskets where paper falls silently, but if enough people write at least it will get full. It might be more effective to have the local media do a local story about a local person who has been hurt by these policies.

Almost every region has an airport, so there is also a broader local angle. Almost every region has a local bike club, if they can be recruited to the cause, you might start to get the critical mass necessary to be visible. And, it also wouldn’t hurt to find a representative in Congress who is willing to ask some questions.

Flying with your Bike

Airline baggage regulations for bicycles are a moving target and the airlines can be very inconsistent (i.e. different charges in different directions, and applying amounts that don’t seem to be reflected anywhere in their public, written policies.) One traveler going from Asia to Europe on Malaysia Airlines paid nothing extra for his bike going but was charged €483 on the return.

Bike touring is even better with your own bike abroad.
Bike touring is even better with your own bike abroad. Stephen Hartshorne photo.

For most code-share agreements, it is the rules of the operating carrier (the owner of the aircraft) which prevail in most cases as they are paying for the fuel, loading personnel, etc. This applies to flights such as an Air France flight operated by Delta.

If you are flying on ONE ticket with multiple segments (connections) and the different segments have different baggage allowances, you should be given the most generous baggage allowance for the whole journey. If you bought separate tickets for each segment of the journey, the separate baggage allowance for each segment will apply.

The airlines’ argument for surcharges is that bicycles require special handling and are quite bulky causing luggage holds to be loaded in very specific ways. This is also true for large musical instruments and very large dogs in kennels. Many airlines have specific charges for other sporting equipment as well: golf bags, surfboards, ski equipment, etc.

Folding Bikes

Folding bikes, like Bike Fridays, that fit in suitcases, generally circumvent all of these hassles, as do S & S torque couplings (precision fittings for steel and titanium bicycle frames that allow the frame to separate into two pieces and be recoupled.)

Why can the airlines charge so much for bikes? Because the consumer (bicyclists) rarely complain and haven’t organized a protest or campaign. In the USA the major membership bicycle organizations (LAB, ACA, IMBA, USCF) haven’t advocated or organized for general bicyclists on this issue.

The following is the best information we have. The airlines don’t notify us when they raise their tariffs or change rules. If you have information that differs from the chart below please email it to us at “ibike@ibike.org”. For a general essay on flying with or shipping your bike see “Flying With Your Bike”.

Note: Airlines are adopting a zero-tolerance policy to ANYTHING pressured on board, including tires, gas-filled shocks, CO2 cartridges, etc. While, if in good shape, most of these items are unlikely to explode, airline and security personnel don’t know the maintenance, use, or abuse history of any given item, so they draw the line at none. If you get caught with pressurized gas-filled shock, we don’t know of any workaround at this time.

David Byrne tours the world and brings along this Tern folding bike to seek out adventures while touring.
David Byrne tours the world and brings along this Tern folding bike to seek out adventures while touring.

As an alternative, though not necessarily less expensive, you can send your bike and other luggage to yourself to your destination using a door-to-door shipping service. Domestically the fees tend to be worth considering. Internationally the fees tend to be for the wealthy. The services we have heard of are The Luggage Club, UPS, DHL, FedEx, Carry-my-bags (UK), First Luggage, Luggage Free, Luggage Forward, and Luggage Express. In the USA, an economical option is Amtrak, but it is not door-to-door, and there needs to be a freight-handling station at both where you want to send the bicycle from and receive it.  Read about how musician David Byrne travels the world with his folding bike.

If you feel you have been wronged by an airline, and you have exhausted your options for reaching a settlement with them, depending upon where you live, you can consider taking them to court. In the USA, because of the dollar amount, these cases are often appropriate for small claims court. The website “Sue the Airlines” has information on this process.

Baggage Allowance: To/From North America

Basic free baggage allowance for economy class on domestic and international flights originating or terminating in the USA or Canada. Most airlines flying to and from North America use a “piece concept” on those flights. All baggage usually must meet standards for size and weight.

The size is calculated as the sum of the length + height + width. The information here shows the number of bags (dash), the maximum size (slash) and the maximum weight. The allowance may include several bags with different sizes and weight maximums.

Beyond North America (Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America) airlines often use a “weight concept” (usually 20 kg or 44 pounds for economy class.) ** The baggage allowance for many airlines has dropped from 70 to 50 pounds / 32 to 23 kg, in 2006, and many airlines have STOP allowing bicycles in lieu of one piece of baggage — ALL BICYCLES PAY! We haven’t had a chance to survey the list, please check with the airline before you travel.

Baggage Allowance: Carry-on

The information here shows the number of bags (dash), the maximum size (slash) and the maximum weight of each back. The size is calculated as the sum of the length + height + width.

Bicycle Tariff: Domestic/Regional

Tariffs on a bicycle as baggage on a flight within the carrier’s home country and region. An asterisk “*”, indicates under the “piece system” no charge for one bicycle in lieu of one piece of checked baggage (waive oversize), if otherwise within the checked baggage piece and weight allowance. All prices are in US$ unless otherwise noted.

Bicycle Tariff: To/From North America

Tariffs on a bicycle as baggage a on a transoceanic flight to and from North America. The flight between North and South America can have totally different allowance and restrictions depending upon the country and time of year so you will need to contact the airline. An asterisk “*”, indicates under the “piece system” no charge for one bicycle in lieu of one piece of checked baggage (waive oversize), if otherwise within the checked baggage piece and weight allowance. All prices are in US$ unless otherwise noted.

Minimum Packing Requirement / Special Instructions

It indicates how the airline would like the bicycle to be packed for transport. “Box” also includes commercially available cases and travel bags ‑‑ in essence, the bicycle must be packed. “Bag” refers to large clear plastic bags that are available from the airlines that allow them. “Handlebars turned” means, handlebars must be turned parallel to the frame. This column also gives other requirements of the airline that you might encounter when traveling with a bicycle. Some airlines require advanced notice from passengers traveling with bicycles.

Visit IBike’s website and see a chart that lists all individual airline’s bicycle shipping regulations.

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